Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oh My Darlin’ Clementine Salad

Clementine Spinach Salad

Tomorrow we head out of town, driving to, and then all around, New York State.  First to see Ben’s family in Syracuse, for a late Christmas celebration.  Then off to the Catskills, where I’ll drop off my mountain-man husband for a few days of hiking.  While Ben’s adding to his collection of winter-time summits, I’ll be bumming around the Hudson Valley, staying with friends, popping into some favorite restaurants, and visiting my old stomping grounds. Then it’s off to Binghamton together for a few nights of delicious revelry with Ralph & Bill, before we make the trek back home again.  It’s sure to be a whirl wind tour, as it is every year.  I can’t wait!

Salad Fixin's

Like happens before any trip, I’ve been trying to use up everything in the fridge, over the last few days.  This afternoon, hungry for a quick lunch, and knowing it was my last chance to rescue a particularly pristine bunch of baby spinach from a wilting, neglectful death, I salvaged it from the back corner of the fridge and dropped it into a big salad bowl.  I found half a dozen cherry-like radishes in the vegetable drawer, so gave them a rinse, sliced them thin, and tossed them in too.  Pushing aside the butter and a big block of Parmesan, I was delighted to discover a small bit of left-over goat cheese hiding in the dairy drawer, from where or when exactly, I have no clue.  No matter, it was still perfectly fine.  What a find!  I crumbled it into small, fluffy dollops, and into the bowl they went.  From the cupboards, a few handfuls of pecans, and a generous scoop of chewy raisins.  An extra round of searching through the fridge yielded half a red onion, wrapped up tight in plastic.  A few thin, pink slices of this too, were tossed into the salad bowl.  On top I drizzled the last few drops of the poppy seed vinaigrette we had left-over from a dinnertime salad a few nights ago.  A quick toss with a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper, and I was ready to sit down and dig in!

Salad Bowl

But then I suddenly spied the big bowl of Clementines on the kitchen countertop, waiting to be packed up tomorrow as a car-ride treat.  Not content to wait patiently, they were just begging to be included today.  And I couldn’t resist them either.  It was a big bowl, after all.  A couple or three wouldn’t be missed on the trip.  So quick as a wink, I popped the Clementines out of their easy-peeling skins, and scattered their half-moon segments into my giant salad of growing goodness. 

And wow, what a final touch those Clementines turned out to be.  Bright, juicy bursts of fresh orange flavor.  Just the thing to really round out this mix-and-match lunch.  And who would have thought that all those last and lost tidbits just floating around could come together into such a fantastic salad!  A perfect salad, really.  With a touch or two of sweetness , a nice hint of tartness, and rounded out by subtle doses of spice and earthiness.  And the textures too, were as well-rounded as the flavors.  Crunchy here, creamy there, crisp and juicy and tender and chewy – all of these in every bite.  I was so delighted with the surprising end results, I just had to share it with you.  And who knows, maybe you all have most of these ingredients just hanging around your kitchen too!  

Oh My Darlin’ Clementine Salad
Serves 4
Spinach Salad with Clementines, Radishes, Pecans, Onions, Raisins, Goat Cheese & Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
For the vinaigrette:
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
1/4 cup vegetable oil
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the rest of the salad:
about 5 to 6 oz baby spinach
4 Clementines, peeled, segments separated
about 8 to 10 radishes, thinly sliced
about 1/2 cup pecan halves
about 1/4 cup raisins
about 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
about 2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To make the vinaigrette:
In a small mixing bowl, combine the mustard, vinegar, honey, poppy seeds, a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Whisk together, and slowly pour in the olive oil, then the vegetable oil, both in a thin stream and whisking as you pour.  The dressing can be made ahead and stored about five days, refrigerated in an airtight container. 
To assemble the salad:
Place the spinach, Clementine segments, sliced radishes, pecans, raisins and sliced red onion in a large mixing bowl.  Drizzle the vinaigrette over the top, enough to evenly coat the spinach and other fixin’s.  (You definitely won’t need to use it all.  Save what’s left, then you’ll have vinaigrette already on hand next time a salad strikes your fancy.)  Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Add small dollops of goat cheese, tucked in here and there among the spinach leaves.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Buttermilk Scones with Golden Raisins & Candied Orange Peel

Buttermilk Scones with Golden Raisins & Candied Orange Peel

Scones.  That quintessential British teatime treat.  I’ve been itching to whip up a batch for a while now.  Actually, I’ve been in the mood to play with all sorts of English cookery, as of late.   All thanks to Downton Abbey, I’m sure.  Are you in the loop?  Do you know yet about this awesome show?  I hope so, because I’d hate to think of any of you missing out on such a joy of a good time.  For those of you not yet in the know, let me fill you in.  Downton Abbey is a Masterpiece Classics miniseries on PBS, a turn of the century drama centered around the sensationally entertaining lives of an aristocratic English family and their household staff.  I am thoroughly addicted, absolutely hooked.  So is Ben.  So are my parents, and my sisters, and their husbands too.  So is, I’m sure, just about everyone who’s ever watched even two minute’s worth.  I think maybe, it’s officially the best television show ever made. Officially. 

Golden Raisins & Candied Orange Peel

Now, don’t fret if you’re only just finding out about Downton.  Season one can be streamed on Netflix, or you can download it from Amazon too.   But you’ll want to get up to speed, and pretty quickly, because season two just started.  (It airs on Sunday nights.)  By the way, second season episodes are also available for streaming, on the show’s home page.  And it won’t take all that long, relatively speaking, to catch yourself up – Season one is about eight hours total.  Eight hours, that if you ask me, couldn’t be better spent.   Honestly everybody, if you haven’t been watching already, get to it!  You’re in for a real treat! (I am so excited for you!!) 

Mixing the dough

Fresh out of the oven

Now, where were we again?  Oh yes, scones!  Nearly as delicious as the show that inspired me to make them, these English-style biscuits are a real treat, no matter on what side of the big pond you happen to live.  A far cry from the dense, dry triangles so many of of us have come to expect from stateside scones,  this recipe yields pure scone perfection.  Crackly, golden brown, sugar-speckled tops.  And moist, tender, crumbly insides.  Heavily studded with sweet, chewy specks of golden raisin and candied orange.  The basic scone formula comes from the Tartine Cookbook, and it’s the recipe I always turn to for scones.  It’s just perfect, and I wouldn’t change a thing.  At least not when it comes to the actual dough.  One thing I do like to change is the bits and pieces of goodness that go in them.  This time:  Candied orange and golden raisins.  Next time, who knows… Raspberries?  Figs?  Chocolate chips?  They all sound good to me.  No matter what you choose to tuck inside, I guarantee these scones will be the perfect thing to nibble on, perhaps alongside a cup of tea, as you settle into a comfy chair and tune in to what will hopefully be your new favorite TV show too.  Enjoy! 

Scone Perfection

Buttermilk Scones
Adapted from Tartine Cookbook by Elisabeth M. Prueitt & Chad Robertson
Makes 12 scones
Buttermilk Scone with Golden Raisins & Candied Orange Peel 
This recipe will give you some lovely scones speckled with sweet golden bits of raisin and candied orange peel.  If you’d like to make you’re own candied orange peel, you’ll find the recipe here.  If you’re not in the mood for this rather extensive extra step (and who could blame you for that?), there are all sorts of filling substitutions you could make, limited only by your imagination.  Any sort of dried fruit – currents, blueberries, cherries, apples, figs, dates, prunes - chopped up a bit, would fit in easily.  Just sub in 3/4-cup of whatever strikes your fancy, and leave out the raisins & orange.  Fresh berries too, can be wonderful.  To accomplish this, start with about 1 cup of berries.  Leave small berries like blueberries or raspberries whole, but coarsely chop larger fruits like strawberries.  Then freeze the whole or chopped berries in a single layer on a small baking sheet.  You can add them to the dough after adding the buttermilk.   Be careful all the while, not to mash the berries , or you’ll dye the dough with their juices. 
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup candied orange peel, chopped
4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 sticks plus 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon lemon zest, grated
For the topping:
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
large crystal sugar or granulated sugar, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle position.  Generously butter a baking sheet, and set aside. 
In a small mixing bowl, cover the raisins with hot water, and set aside for about 15 minutes, until they are plump and tender.  Then drain well. 
Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a large mixing bowl (if mixing by hand), or the bowl of an electric stand mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment).  Add the sugar ad salt and stir well to combine with a wooden spoon.  Scatter the cold cubes of butter over the flour mixture.  If mixing by hand, use a pastry blender or 2 table knives to cut the butter into the flour mixture. Otherwise, pulse the electric mixer on and off a few times, until you have a coarse mixture with pea-sized lumps of butter still visible.  You don’t want to break down the butter too much. 
Add the buttermilk, lemon zest, drained raisins and candied orange peel.  Mix gently with a wooden spoon, or with the mixer set to low, mixing just until the dough holds together.  You still want to see bits and pieces of butter here and there, which will add to the flakiness. 
Lightly dust a work surface with flour, and turn the dough onto it.  Pat the dough into a rectangle about 18-inches long, 5-inches wide and 1 1/2-inches thick.  Brush the top with melted butter, then sprinkle with the sugar.  Slice the dough into 12 triangles.  Transfer the triangles to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1-inch apart. 
Bake the scones until the tops are lightly browned, about 30 to 35 minutes.  These are sensational right out of the oven, but can be served warm or at room temperature. 

Crumbs & Clementine

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Grapes

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Grapes

Happy Two-Thousand & Twelve, everyone!  I hope you all had an immensely fun and beautifully  festive time during the holidays, and are now enjoying this new year to its very
fullest.  I am such a huge fan of New Years.  I love that fresh optimism that never fails to follow along with the resetting of the calendar.  I love how enthusiastic and invigorated I always feel, waking up to that very first morning.  I love making a long, detailed list of resolutions.  I love the excitement that comes from believing, for at least a while, and no matter how impossible certain goals may be, that I’ll follow through on every last one.  And I love those impossible resolutions most of all.  At least, of course, until I actually prove their impossibility.

Sprouts & Grapes

Prepping the Brussels Sprouts

One of my goals for 2012: Write blog post every single week.  Well, take a quick look at today’s date at the top of this post.  January 12.  Yep.  Already, I’ve not quite followed through with this one.  And oh geeze!  That wasn’t even one of the more impossible-sounding resolutions this year!  Shoot!  :)  Oh well, lucky for me, I tacked one last goal to the very end of my list:  Don’t be too disappointed if/when (but more likely when, of course, because come on face it, Kate, this is, as always, a wicked crazy list) you don’t actually cross-off every item on here.  And on this point, my friends, I’m happy to report that I’ve followed through completely! 

I had to, you see.  I just wouldn’t have been able to face the horrible shame and disgrace of utterly failing at not one but two resolutions, and so pathetically early in the year!  I tease of course, I do hope you’re picking up on that. :)

Brussels Sprouts & Grapes, with Garlic, Thyme, Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper

Set for the Oven

Honestly, friends, I’m not being hard on myself at all for falling behind on this one.  Actually, I could hardly care in the least.  Because, you know what, I’ve got a really, really good excuse.  Just about the cutest, cuddliest little excuse ever – a brand new nephew, Elliot Anders Smigelski!  My sister Molly and her husband David welcomed this adorable little bundle of sweetness into the world last weekend, and he is oh so amazing.  Being there for the very start of his brand new life, well, something like that is worth more than a million silly resolutions marking the start of a measly year!  And so, at the earliest hint of Elliot’s eminent arrival, I tossed this first week’s deadline into the wind, and we packed right up and drove straight to Toledo.  I told you.  Really, really good excuse! 

Freshly Roasted, Oh So Tempting!

And now, days later, having given Elliot’s forehead one last good bye kiss, then making the trip back home, I’ve finally settled into my desk chair, set my fingers to home row on my lap top keyboard, and am diligently typing out this post.  But of course, I’m distracted now and again by the blustery blur of white that’s whipping past my office window.  Because finally too, it's started snowing here in Chicago.  Really snowing!  The first legitimate snow all season, I do believe.  And somehow, this first total blanketing of white – pure, absolute freshness resting on all the sidewalks and trees and windowsills – it makes it seem like new year’s day all over again.  It kind of makes me feel like this post made it just in the nick of time, after all.


So let’s get to it!  Let me tell you about this first recipe of 2012!  Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes.  A wonderful, wintery side dish.  A side dish so wintery and wonderful, it doesn’t need to stand aside anything at all, which I illustrated last week, as I gobbled up a pound’s worth of sprouts and their sweet, wrinkly pink side kicks, fresh out of the oven, before Ben even arrived home from work.  My belly full and appetite spoiled, I contentedly kept my husband company through dinner, a plate-less placemat in front of me, hardly missing my pork chop at all.  (Or, I should say, Ben’s bonus pork chop.) Really, it’s a rare vegetable dish that gets me so greedy.  Something about this though, was just beckoning me to keep eating.  A bite of buttery Brussels sprouts made my want the sweet juiciness of a roasted grape, which made me need another taste of golden cruciferous goodness, which begged to be followed with a shot of bright fruitiness.  And on and on it went.  Quite the tasty cycle. 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Grapes

I hope you’ll give this one a try.  It’s quick and easy to throw together,  nearly as healthful as it is tasty, and if I do say so myself, it really is quite a looker!  So pretty, I think, don’t you?  Ben reports that it’s a great pairing for pork chops.  And while I’m sure he’s right, I just may have to go through the motions of proving him so, and sometime soon.  This time though, I’ll make a new resolution, and won’t have a single taste, ‘til my husband is home, the table is set and the pork chops are done!  (No excuses for this one, no matter how cute and cuddly they may be!)

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Grapes
Serves 6
Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Grapes
2 pounds Brussels sprouts
1 1/2 pounds red table grapes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 375°F and arrange an oven rack in the middle position.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set aside. 
To prepare the Brussels sprouts, peel off any discolored or blemished outer leaves, slice off the stem at the base of the sprout, then slice in half.  Pluck the grapes from their stems, then rinse under cool water and drain well. 
In a large mixing bowl, toss to combine the Brussels sprouts, grapes, olive oil, garlic, thyme and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Spread this mixture evenly over the prepared baking sheet, then place in the oven. 
Set for the Oven
Roast for about 15 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and give the ingredients a good mix with a metal spatula.  Return the pan to the oven and roast for an another 15 minutes. 
Meanwhile, combine the vinegar and sugar in a small bowl or pot. Using either the microwave or stove, heat the mixture just a bit, only until the sugar dissolves.  Stir it a bit, to help it dissolve.  Set aside. 
After 3o minutes cooking time, remove the pan from the oven again, and sprinkle the Brussels sprout mixture with the balsamic-sugar mixture.  Toss to combine with the metal spatula, then return to the oven for a final 15 minutes of roasting.  When done, the grapes will be wrinkly and juicy, and the Brussels sprouts will be golden brown, crisp on the outside and tender on the insides.  Serve warm. 
Fresh out of the oven

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Caramels & Tiny Vintage Christmas Ornaments

Do I have a treat for you all today!  Honestly, if you live in Chicago, come on over, because I’ve literally got a treat for you.  Homemade caramels!  Or if I happen to bump into you while we’re out and about, and if I happen to forget to offer you one myself (unlikely, because my official holiday obsession of 2011 is doling out these chewy confections), please just ask, because I’ve gotten in the habit of carrying around a dozen or so of these in the big pocket of my purse, to give as little spur-of-the-moment holiday surprises.  For all you out-of-towners, I hope the recipe itself will be treat enough.  I do think it will, because half the fun of these incredible homemade caramels lies in making them yourself! 

Lots of Caramels!

I’ve always adored caramels.  Not just liked, not just loved even, but adored.  In fact, one of my fondest, most precious childhood memories revolves around caramels.  When I was little, a sweet old lady named Mrs. Rupp lived three doors down from my grandparents, in a little pitched roof home that in my eyes looked like a real life gingerbread house.  A far cry from Hansel & Gretel's witch though, Mrs. Rupp was the neighborhood’s Candy Lady.  Everyone knew, that if you were brave enough to ring her bell all by yourself (no grown-ups I mean - you could bring cousins along of course), you’d be rewarded with a choice from Mrs. Rupp’s candy tin.  So anytime we’d visit Grandma & Grandpa, my sister Molly and I would make a quick trip, dashing through the backyard woods, then up the gingerbread steps, to ring the Candy Lady’s doorbell.  We’d wait a few minutes as small, frail Mrs. Rupp would slowly amble with her cane to the back door.  We wouldn’t even have to ask, just smile and say hello.  She’d sweetly smile herself, reach for her candy tin on the little shelf beside the door,  and hold it out towards us, as she’d done countless times before.  The selection was simple, always three choices - bright yellow butterscotch hard candies, those round swirly peppermints wrapped in cellophane, and you guessed it, caramels – but it was always such a thrill, and I always chose the caramels.  Then after quick exclamations of ‘thank you’ (which in hindsight were much, much too quick, because how can you properly thank someone for such a lovely, lasting memory, for weaving such sweet, idyllic charm into your past, with just those two little words?) we’d dash back again to our buzzing hive of a family, before anyone even knew we’d disappeared. 


Our Candy Lady’s caramels were always the Kraft kind.  And don’t get me wrong, Kraft caramels are Good.  Good with a capital G!  But with all sincere respect to sweet Mrs. Rupp, homemade caramels are Better, with a capital B!  If you too adore caramels, even if you merely love them, you have to make these.  You’re going to just about die, they are so good. 

Taste and texture battle it out with every chew, each competing to win your heart.  Immensely rich and impossibly buttery, with deep caramel complexity that somehow yields the most simply thrilling satisfaction, the taste is pure heaven.   But then the stretchy, tender chewiness grabs a hold of you, and suddenly you find yourself in a sweet, sticky, golden love triangle.  I suppose it doesn’t matter really, what you like best about these caramels.  I for one will never be able to decide.  All I know is that I’ll forever be hopelessly smitten.       


And hey everybody, this is the perfect time of year for making these!  They really are sensational gifts.  I hope you’re not too intimidated to give them a try.  Please don’t be.  Really.  Because, and I can’t lie, I was a bit intimidated myself, thinking at every turn that these were just not going to turn out right, but then, was instead unfailingly surprised at every turn, and repeatedly thrilled by the easy results.  I’ve made them twice already, because they’re disappearing fast.  And I’m pretty sure I’ll make them again a few times more, before the season is through.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed giving these to friends and family.  And I bet a bit of that just may have to do with my memory of Mrs. Rupp.  Because every time I reach into my big purse pocket, or pull down my own candy tin from the top kitchen shelf, I can’t help but think of her.  So with every gifted caramel, I send her up an extra little thank you, and smile to myself, knowing that I’m passing on a sweet little tidbit of her lovely tradition. 

Can of Caramels

Makes about 4 dozen 1-inch square candies (with an 8 x 8-inch pan)
Or about 6 to 7 dozen  3/4 x 3/4  x 1 1/2-inch rectangular candies (with a 9 x 13-inch pan)
Plus scraps :)
Homemade Caramels
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup light corn syrup
1 can (14-ounces) condensed milk
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 sticks unsalted butter, sliced into 1-inch pieces, plus more for greasing the pan
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Special equipment:
either an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan or a 9 x 13-inch baking pan
a large (at least 5-quart) heavy-bottomed sauce pot
a candy thermometer
lots of wax paper
Caramel Ingredients 
Generously butter the bottom and sides of the baking pan and set aside. 
Combine all ingredients except for vanilla in a large (at least 5 quart) heavy-bottomed sauce pot.  Over medium heat, stir with a whisk to dissolve the sugar and melt the butter.  Whisking frequently, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low or medium-low, to maintain a gentle but somewhat rapid boil.  From this point on, try your best to ignore the impulse to stir, and instead just swirl the pan a bit, if things seem to need a mix.  Continue boiling until the sauce turns from pale tan to light gold to deep caramel brown. 

Butter melted and sugar dissolved About 220 degrees

about 230 degrees About 240 degrees 

But do not judge doneness by color alone!  You must, must use a candy thermometer.  All will depend on the final temperature of the candy.  And here you can make some personal choices:  If you like softer, lighter colored caramels, turn off the heat when the thermometer reaches 245°F.  But if you’re after a chewier, more deeply colored caramel, cook until the thermometer reaches 250°F, then remove from the heat.  It’s a very exacting process, so really try hard not to stop before 245°F or beyond 150°F, or they’ll be a touch too soft or too chewy, respectively. 

I have a few thoughts about differences between the two temperatures and the results you’ll get depending on what you choose:  If you decide to stop cooking at 245°F, you will have created the smoothest, creamiest, most tender caramels ever.  They will be perfectly soft and stretchy and all around lovely.  They will also be a little lighter in color.   The main drawback is, they will be so easy to chew, they’ll disappear way too fast.  If instead you choose the 250°F caramels, you will be gifted with immensely chewy, deeply caramelized, intensely flavored blocks of gold.  Not the luscious little confections of 5 degrees cooler, these guys will require a decent amount of chewing.  But don’t get me wrong, this added jaw work-out should not be considered a drawback in the least!  The extra chewiness will ensure that the pleasure of these caramels lasts a little while longer, which you will be grateful for.  I love these as much as the softer ones, and that’s why I just had to include both options in the recipe.  I like to think of these as adult caramels, and the others as perfect for kids.  The only negative I can think of with these 250°F caramels, it that they’re a little more difficult to slice.  Well, not more difficult exactly, let’s just say less easy.  :)

The cooking process can take upwards of an hour, but it won’t need your constant attention.  Once the caramel starts to deepen in color, just give the temperature a check every few minutes, while you stay busy doing something else (washing dishes, cutting wax paper wrappers).  You’ll find that at first, the temperature rises relatively quickly, but the closer and closer you get to your end temperature, the longer and longer it takes. 

One last note about temperature.  Since the ultimate result really does rely on the final temperature, it is very important that your candy thermometer is calibrated.  To do so, bring a pot of water to a rapid boil, and take its temperature.  The thermometer should read 212°F.  If not, you’ll know by how much, and in what direction, you’ll need to adjust the final temperature of your caramel – just adjust it up or down, by however many degrees you were off from 212. 

Add the vanilla and whisk to combine, then immediately pour into the prepared pan.  You’ll be inclined to scrape the saucepot with a rubber spatula, to get out all the remaining sauce sticking to the bottom of the pan, but I advise you against doing this too enthusiastically.  These sticky bottom bits could have reached much higher temperatures than the rest of the sauce, and so may add some tough or even crunchy specks to your smooth candy.  (Instead, allow the pot to cool a bit, then snack on the lingering goodness. Trust me, at this point, you’ll be dying to try your caramels, and will be thrilled to have a an early taste!)

Allow the pan to rest at room temperature, uncovered, until it cools to room temperature.  This will take about 3 hours for the 9 x 13-inch pan and upwards of 6 hours for the 8 x 8-inch pan.

Smooth and Creamy 
When cool, slice around the edges with a sharp knife, just to loosen it from the pan a bit, and then using a metal spatula, lift the sheet of caramel directly from the pan, and transfer to a cutting board.  (You’re going to worry that this will be tricky (I did), but I assure you, it is satisfyingly easy! Phew!)

Now it’s time for slicing.  If you used the 8-inch square pan, you’ll be able to get about 4 dozen 1-inch square pieces. (The height of the caramel in the pan will be roughly 1-inch.)   And if you used the 9 x 13-inch pan, nearly 7 dozen 3/4 x 3/4 x 1 1/2-inch rectangular pieces.  (The height will be roughly 3/4-inch.) 

One piece of advice, in order to get really perfect looking candies, before slicing, first measure the height of the caramel sheet for exactness, and then make little tweaks to the measurements based on that.  For instance, when I made the square candies, my measurement was more like 1 1/8-inch, rather than a pure inch, so I kept this length for each dimension.  It sounds ridiculously detail-oriented, but it really does make a big difference.  Of course, you could go the other (less-anal) direction all together, and roughly slice any size candy that you want - bigger rectangles, littler squares, you name it.  You certainly don’t need to go by my dimensions!


Once you’ve sliced all your caramels, now it’s time to get wrapping.  I’ve found that for the 1-inch square caramels, a 6 x 6-inch square of paper does the job.  For the rectangular caramels, cut your wax paper into 3 1/2 x 6-inch triangles.  To wrap, encircle the candies with the paper, then twist the ends to secure. 

These can be stored  in an airtight container, in a refrigerator for a few months, or at room temperature for upwards of a week.  But trust me, they won’t last nearly that long!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup

Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup

After a lucky string of seriously beautiful days surrounding Thanksgiving, the weather quickly turned in a major way today.  Cold and windy and drizzly, it was the kind of Sunday where staying inside a warm house all day just seems like such a good idea.  Another good idea for days like this one?  Soup making.  Because there’s nothing quite like soup for warming up a yucky day.  And so, while Ben and I settled in back home after a weekend away, I made us a pot of this curried Butternut squash soup. 

Coconut Curry Butternut Soup

I’ve been wanting to make a curried squash soup for a while now, and on the ride home from Toledo yesterday, I’d jotted down a few ideas on how to go about doing it.  I knew I wanted to include coconut milk, because I just love how coconut can both bring out and tame the sweet heat of a curry.  And I knew my soup had to contain loads and loads of vegetables, crowding the broth, pushing the limits from the realm of soup into nearly a stew.  I had a picture of the end result in mind:  Vibrant yellow and creamy, with tender pieces of deep orange  squash squeezed in a bright mosaic of greens and reds and golds.  So this morning, I resisted the urge to stay indoors, and made a quick trip to the produce market, collecting in my basket one giant onion, two slender pale green leeks,  a couple of cherry-red bell peppers, a package of very green baby spinach, a smooth long-necked squash, a head of garlic, and a small bulb of ginger.  Everything else I’d need, I was pretty sure I’d have in my cupboard back at home.

Squash, Garlic, Ginger & Peppers

Slicing Butternut Squash

After a laid back half-hour or so of vegetable slicing, I warmed up my big soup pot on the stove, then pulled down from the cupboards the other ingredients I’d jotted down in my car ride brain-storming session:  fish sauce, Thai red chile paste, brown sugar, curry powder.  As soon as the vegetables were in the pot, this soup just seemed to take care of itself, and within no time at all, my pot was filled with an exact picture of the soup I’d envisioned.  A sunny yellow broth, smooth and creamy, with ribbons of green spinach drifting though wide flecks of red peppers, orange squash and shimmery white onions.  Such a bright and beautiful concoction, just what the gloomy day had ordered!

Soups up!

As pretty as this soup is, it’s even better tasting than it looks, if you can believe it.  Sweet and smooth, with warm curry spices and a cool coconut undercurrent, it hits all the notes needed to really make you smile.  A small handful of roasted cashews sprinkled on top added a touch of crunch and saltiness, and a squeeze of lime and sprinkling of fresh cilantro leaves gave a bit of fresh brightness.  Spoonful after spoonful, I couldn’t wipe away a little grin, so happy to have achieved the the results I was after, and just plain glad to be eating such good soup, period. :)

Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 6 to 8
Squash Curry Soup 
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
1 large onion, peeled, 1/2-inch diced
2 medium leeks, 1/2-inch diced, rinsed well *
2 red bell peppers, seeded & cored, 1/2-inch diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons Thai red chile paste
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 pound butternut squash, peeled and seeded, 1/2-inch diced
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
3 cups chicken stock
juice from 1 lime
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
5 ounces baby spinach
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
about 1/2 cup salted roasted cashews, for garnish
cilantro, for garnish
All Chopped Up
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.  When the butter has melted, add the diced onion, leeks and red peppers.  Season generously with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are just tender and the onions are translucent, about seven to ten minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, about two minutes.  Add the chile paste, curry powder and brown sugar and cook for two more minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the diced butternut squash and stir to combine.  Add the coconut milk and chicken stock and stir to combine.  Increase the heat to bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes.  Add the lime juice, fish sauce and spinach and stir to combine.  Continue to cook only until the spinach has wilted.  Taste, then season as needed with salt, pepper, more lime juice or more fish sauce.  Serve in soup bowls, garnished with cashews and cilantro, if you’d like. 
* For tips on cleaning and slicing leeks, refer to this post

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Grapefruit Panna Cotta with Candied Cranberries

Candied Cranberries & Grapefruit Panna Cotta

I’m going to need to make this a quick one, everybody!  I’ve been wanting to get this recipe to you for days and days, but I’ve had some camera issues, and that kept getting in my way.  And now it’s super late already, and I still have about a half dozen things on my to-do list that just must be accomplished before I go to bed, because when I wake up tomorrow, there’ll be no time for anything but cooking!  Yessss!  Thanksgiving cooking!  Can’t wait. 

Late Fall Fruit

And so, with no further ado, let me present to you these lovely Grapefruit Panna Cottas with Candied Cranberries.  Impossibly luscious, utterly smooth, as creamy as creamy can be.  And the flavor… to die for.  Tart, refreshing grapefruit married with smooth, round vanilla.  On top, a cool dollop of freshly whipped cream, and then…  then it’s the best part of all, glittering sugar-coated cranberries, crackly and crunchy, bright and tart and oh so pretty. 

Sparkling Cranberries

To me, this dessert is the perfect blend of autumn and winter.  (Am I’m really bringing up winter already?!)  Cranberries - a quintessential fall fruit – and grapefruit – a darling of winter.  The combination makes them absolutely perfect for this time of year.  And that’s why I think, for those of you who aren’t that crazy about pumpkin pie (I’m one of those persons myself, by the way), this could be a perfect ending to your Thanksgiving feast.  I only hope I’m not too late in getting this to you!   I won’t be too hard on myself though, because these pretty panna cottas are simply splendid no matter what the occasion.  You hardly need a holiday to enjoy them! 

Grapefruit Panna Cotta and Candied Cranberries

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!  Happy cooking!  Happy eating!

Grapefruit Panna Cotta
Serves 6
 Grapefruit Panna Cotta with Candied Cranberries
1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin
1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice (be sure to zest the grapefruit before juicing it)
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 cup grapefruit zest (from about 3 grapefruits)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup sour cream
1 to 2 drops red food coloring
In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the grapefruit juice and allow it to set for at least five minutes.
In a medium saucepot, combine the heavy cream, vanilla bean (scrape the seeds from the pod and add it all to the pot), grapefruit zest, sugar and salt.  Bring to just a simmer (do not boil) over medium-high heat, then remove from the heat.  Add the gelatin mixture to the cream mixture  and stir to thoroughly dissolve.  Let steep for about 15 minutes, then strain through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the zest and vanilla bean. 
Grapefruit & Vanilla
Place the sour cream in a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Slowly add the cream mixture, stirring in a little at a time, until smooth.  (I like to use a rubber spatula, rather than a whisk, because it makes for less bubbles on top of the panna cotta.  But this means that I have to stir extra well, to insure total smoothness and combination of ingredients.)
Add one to two drops of red food coloring, just enough to lightly tinge it with pink, and stir to thoroughly blend. 
Fill six tea cups or soufflĂ© cups about 3/4 full with the cream mixture.  Chill for at least 8 hours. 
To serve, top with a dollop of whipped cream and some candied cranberries.  (See recipe just below.)

For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisking by hand or with an electric mixer, whip the cream to soft peaks (When you stick a spoon into the cream and lift it out, a point will form then droop down after a second or two).  Add sugar and vanilla and whip to firm peaks (The point formed in the cream will stand straight up and not fall over.)

Cranberries & Grapefruit

Candied Cranberries
Makes about 3 cups
Candied Cranberries
2 cups water
2 cups plus about 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 bag fresh cranberries (about 3 cups)
In a medium saucepot, combine the water and 2 cups sugar and bring to just a simmer over medium high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes.  Add the cranberries to the sugar-water mixture.  Refrigerate overnight, in an air-tight container. 
The next day, add the rest of the granulated sugar to a small mixing bowl.  Drain the cranberries from the sugar water.  One by one, toss the soaked cranberries in the sugar, coating all sides with sugar, then place on a parchment or wax paper lined baking tray.  Allow to dry, uncovered for about 3 hours, then serve. 
To store, keep in an air-tight container.  Unfortunately, keeping them covered will make them a little sticky and moist, dissolving the sugar.  In this case,  just roll them in a small bowl of sugar again and allow them to dry out for a little while.  They’ll be as good as new.